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Prep winter items for safe seasonal storage
MISSISSIPPI STATE – When winter is finally over and warm weather sets in to stay, Mississippians can put their warm things safely away for next year by taking a few precautions.
Some people think of storing winter clothes as a simple task of moving items from one closet to another or placing them in a box in the attic. However, improper storage can lead to stains, insect problems and an unpleasant surprise when cold weather returns.
Wanda Cheek is an associate professor of apparel, textiles and merchandising in Mississippi State University’s School of Human Sciences. She said regardless of fiber content, winter clothes, blankets and household textiles should be clean and dry before they are stored.
“Woolens and silks should be dry cleaned. Not doing so can result in stains that become ‘set’ and cannot be removed next winter,” Cheek said.
Moisture and humidity must be controlled during storage to protect items.
“Clothes that have been put away damp or that come in contact with moisture during storage will have irreversible mildew and mold damage,” Cheek said. “To prevent this, it is very important that moisture and humidity be controlled.”
Do not store clothes, blankets or rugs in basements because of their typically high humidity levels. While attics are usually dry, they do not provide good long-term storage space either because their high heat levels can damage fibers.
Blake Layton, MSU Extension entomologist, urged people putting away heavy winter clothing to be aware of insect pests to prevent costly damage and disappointments next fall. Although moths are assumed to be the culprit when stored clothes have holes, carpet beetles are more likely at fault.
“Fortunately, most of the precautions taken to prevent or control clothes moths will also work against carpet beetles,” Layton said.
The most commonly encountered species of clothes moths are webbing and casemaking clothes moths. Both are light-colored and about one-quarter inch in size. The insects do their damage while they are caterpillars.
Carpet beetles were named back in the days when carpets were made of wool, hair or other animal-based products. The two most common species are varied carpet beetles and black carpet beetles.
“Carpet beetles and clothes moths are still important pests of oriental rugs and other wool carpets and tapestries, but they do not feed on the synthetic carpets that are common today,” Layton said. “However, these pests will attack fabrics that are blends of wool and synthetics.”
Household items that are targets for clothes moths and carpet beetles include wool clothes, silk ties, felt hats, fur coats, silk tapestries or rugs, and taxidermy specimens. Carpet beetles also feed on dried pet foods and dead insects, and infestations are often associated with accumulations of dead insects in light fixtures, wall voids, and bird, bee or wasp nests.
When insects have caused damaged, a professional reweaver can be employed to try to salvage valuable garments or those with sentimental value, Cheek said.
“Consumers should be aware that this can be quite costly, and finding a good reweaver is getting to be very difficult except at specialty cleaners in large cities,” Cheek said.
Steps to protect clothing and other items from these insect pests are similar to those needed to protect the items from stains:
Have clothing cleaned professionally before placing it in storage. Clothing with residues of perspiration, oil and skin flakes is much more likely to be damaged.
When cleaning is not possible, brush items thoroughly and hang them in a bright, sunny location, then brush again inside and out before storing. Brushing dislodges many eggs and larvae, and the sunlight repels the insects.
When cleaning is not practical, freeze items for two to three weeks after placing them in plastic bags and removing as much air as possible. This will not prevent stains from setting in clothes that have not been properly cleaned, but it is a cost-effective way to ensure items are bug-free before storage. Be aware of problems caused by condensation and make sure articles are thoroughly dry before storing.
Store items in bug-tight containers, as moths and carpet beetles cannot lay eggs in clothing they cannot reach.
Check stored items periodically to be sure they are not infested, and deal promptly with any infestations that are found.
Some people turn to moth balls or crystals, pest strips, insecticide sprays or cedar chests for clothing storage. Layton said the protective properties of cedar furniture are overrated. High concentrations of cedar oils do kill small caterpillars, but it is difficult to create conditions where the cedar fumes build up to toxic levels.
Moth balls or crystals can kill young larvae when their concentrations are high enough, but the chemicals react with plastic, so they must be kept from direct contact with items being stored in the container. Also, these products smell bad, so stored items must be aired out before use.
Pest strips can be effective insect deterrents for stored items, but they should not be used in areas where people sleep or spend significant amounts of time. Insecticide sprays should never be sprayed directly on clothing, but when applied professionally, they can help protect wool carpets and hangings.
Find more tips and information in the Feb. 10 edition of Layton’s Bug-Wise newsletter.